So you thought that New Orleans had a festival for every kind of food? Not quite, since macaroni and cheese somehow fell through the cracks. That will be remedied on October 21, when the NOLA Mac ‘N Cheese Festival makes its debut at Armstrong Park.
The idea was hatched last year when Kent Broussard, co-owner of the No Problem Raceway outside Baton Rouge, attended the Fried Chicken Festival in Lafayette Park with his girlfriend, former Detroit music promoter Jules Egren. “That was an absolute debacle because they were expecting 10,000 people and they got maybe 40,000. So Jules turns to me and says, ‘Okay Genius, how come you couldn’t come up with this?’ So we thought of ideas for festivals, I figured mac and cheese had to be already done, but we did the research and nobody had. Then we started reaching out to people, who told us all the reasons why we shouldn’t do this in a million years. Which is why we said, ‘Hell, yes!’”
It didn’t hurt that Broussard’s brother Russ has one of the best contact lists in town, as playing drums with many of the local names (currently in both Susan Cowsill and John Gros’ bands). Taking charge of the musical end as a first-time festival booker, Russ went through his lists and pulled out all the stops. “I called in a lot of my favors. We’ve got Greyson Capps who I just recorded a really great album with, that one’s an honor. John Boutte jumped right in when I called. And we got Susan Cowsill—I must have had her number in a box somewhere; we’ve had a few run-ins over the years.” (Cowsill is of course his regular musicial partner and wife).
Most of the players have something special planned: Cowsill and Broussard’s usual band (with bassist Mary Lasseigne and guitarist Chris Adkins) will be joined by Aaron Wilkinson of the Honey Island Swamp Band, who sat in with them at French Quarter Fest. John Gros will do a funky Indian set with Big Chief Monk Boudreaux, a collaboration that usually happens only at Mardi Gras or Jazz Fest. And George Porter Jr.’s closing set with include a horn section, something that only happens in rare sets with the Runnin’ Partners. Looking to also bring in younger talent, Russ Broussard booked the Fontainebleau High School Jazz Ensemble One to open the day, “It’s not easy to put a 22 piece big band on a festival stage and then have John Boutte follow that, so you’ll get a big powerful sound, then a powerful stripped-down one.”
With 15 restaurants represented, there’ll be sinful offerings like mac & cheese with pork belly, with brisket or fried mac and cheese balls with crawfish. So dancing at this fest won’t just be easy, it will be a downright necessity.